We met up in Lexington, first for lunch and then an afternoon of catching up that dribbled over into the evening, and ended with most of us staying over, scattered over two stories of our friends’ new house.  This is the group I see three or four times a year, often more if someone is reading or giving a presentation or just happens to be in the area. If we can, we flock to the place wherever the others are, even if for an afternoon, or  a quick lunch just off  I-64, I-75, the Bluegrass or Mountain Parkway.  

An entire year and then some has gone without us clapping eyes on each other.  A year with illness and deaths in the family, new homes and weddings and retirements to celebrate and there we all were, stuck in our homes, Zoom a sorry substitute for our old lives, but we were grateful for it, even so. 

And then, on a perfect Saturday in mid-May, we met up at Dudley’s in Lexington, just as the farmer’s market was in full swing outside the open doors. Everyone out in shorts and t-shirts and their fancy little dogs, or their sweet rescues with fancy leashes, or babies in fancy strollers, and it was almost an assault to the senses all those people and all that color concentrated in one small space. We aren’t used to it anymore.

We arrived early and were shown to our table where we waited for the others to join us.   It was graduation day at UK and the restaurant seemed full, although tables were still fairly spread out.  Maybe it was the celebratory feeling chasing around the room that made it seem full to overflowing. There was more than graduation to celebrate this Saturday, as mandates eased and the world cautiously opened up.

When the last of our group arrived it was hugs all around.  We had been talking about those hugs for weeks, and they were worth waiting for.  No shoulder bump/air kiss embraces these.  These were full-on funeral hugs, homecoming hugs, the greeting and parting hugs of every wonderful Christmas gathering all rolled into one.  We rose from our seats and stood in the middle of the restaurant, in other people’s way, announcing who was coming after whom for their long overdue embrace. 

We luxuriated in those hugs.  And then we ordered drinks. 

There is something about the brunchy time of day that just screams for some kind of pretty drink.  Even if you don’t drink, you kinda want one, and one of our pals who rarely imbibes, if ever, decided she wanted one, too.  We spent a long time discussing what she might like, talking in that indulgent way one does with a child.  Do you think you want something fruity? Fizzy?  Orange?  Peach? 

We ordered for her, making sure it was something we all would like, knowing we would probably be polishing it off for her, which we did. We shared that drink like we share desserts.  We passed it back and forth, smacked our lips and struck poses, attempting to discern the elusive flavors and ingredients like the experts we think we are. 

In the afternoon we met up with the rest of us who didn’t make it to lunch.  We sat outside as the shadows lengthened, talked for hours about what, I can’t say.  I just know the conversation never dragged, we took turns speaking like well-behaved kindergarteners, we brought each other water and soft drinks, crackers and cheese after any trip inside. 

At some point we talked about books we were reading, things we were writing, what other friends were up to.  There was a huge yard to explore, a creek, a hammock-y kind of swing no one could get in or out of gracefully. We laughed at everyone who tried it.   Finally, pizza. 

In other words, a normal, lovely day.  A day that in the depths of our isolation, we thought might never come. And yet, here we are. We have a holiday weekend just ahead, one of the little holidays, which is perfect for testing the waters, with no big expectations but some family or friends around, some potato salad and barbecue, maybe.  Which is great, really, because a simple backyard gathering leaves so much more time and space for all those hugs.

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